International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Comment
They ran the
old sci-fi movie 2001, A Space Odyssey on one of the
TV channels the other night. I remember when this film came out
in 1968, just before man landed on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission.
Computerisation was still a bulky method used for mathematical
calculations. Telecommunications in general was just beginning
to emerge from the steam age.
in todays visual entertainment media, the film still carried a
strong philosophical punch of mans inability to control
his destiny even with the use of computers. Stanley Kubrick wrote and
directed it with the assistance of Sir Arthur Clark, one of the worlds
leading astrologers, sadly departed in March last year. The message
the movie tries to convey may, at times be difficult to interpret but
in essence is pretty straightforward. A mysterious monolith appears
on earth over 40 million years ago and baffles the early descendants
of man disguised as misguided apes. From then on we see the evolution
of mankind and their fear that other and more intelligent beings from
outer space are a constant threat of invasion. They are determined to
protect earths superior race from unidentified aliens. In the
film, man is supposed to have reached the supreme level of intelligence
(remember it is 1968) by developing space cities and craft controlled
by an equally intelligent computer named HAL. The conclusion is obvious.
HAL tries to take over whilst man continues in his quest searching for
an answer to his future destiny.
Weve come a long way since then. Despite the incredible, almost
apocalyptic accuracy of the films predictions (man has been to
the moon and back, has built floating mini-cities and continues
to venture out into space on a regular basis, including tourists to
fly around the earth) fear of the unknown beyond is ever
present in the minds of todays society. As far as being dominated
by computers one just has to look around; man has certainly reached
that stage and although HAL may not be a life threatening monster (yet!),
his dependence on these machines is a never ending saga as these have
transformed into a multitude of mini-HAL9000 forms that control every
aspect of todays lifestyle. Both Kubrick and Clark have passed
away but Im sure that they must be laughing in their graves! Just
take a look around.
Transport of information and dissection of the same go hand in hand.
The first depends on the second and vice versa. In other words, computers
are used to transmit and receive signals of all kinds sending imagines,
sounds and basic text information, whilst similar machines are busily
crunching, disassembling, analysing and piecing together every intelligent
bit to be handed out in a plethora of formats for mankind
to use in pursuit of his happiness and wellbeing. We started off with
telegrams, telephones and radio, followed by telex, fax and television.
Ah! That was not enough. Man continued to streamline each and every
one of these inventions by designing fax, mobile telephony and finally
the crème de la crème in the form of Internet;
a type of instant coffee telecoms system. In other areas
of modern life, computers have also taken over. They build cars, fly
airplanes, conduct medical operations, play music, and sing inside hearing
aids. They even add up your beer bill in the pub. Questions
are: do they provide us with a better life and what is more important,
an insight into the future destiny of our elite animal life? Are we
on the road to reaching a level of human satisfaction thanks to the
never ending army of HALs that now control our modern world?
Pause for reflection!
What about the protection of our very planet? Is all this super duper
machinery on the stores of every technical shop in town going to assist
us in survival, let alone plan the future of our destiny? There are
no doubt that computers and the peripheral gadgetry give us pleasure
and ease our daily stressful life but they also add to massive consumerism
of basic goods.
I refer once again to the movie world. Dances with Wolves,
starring Kevin Costner. It is the story of a lone Yankee army Lieutenant
who ventures out into the wilds of the American West just after the
Civil War and befriends a local tribe of Sioux Indians. Without going
into the details of the storyline suffice to say that the lifestyle
of the Indians is one of cohabitation with nature. In other words, both
human and the offerings of the wild respect each other. A simple example
is the hunting of sufficient buffalo to feed and clothe the community.
Suddenly the rich white men arrive on the scene and show
us the darker side of humanity. They begin slaughtering these animals
for the lucrative fur trade back on the east coast leaving the carcasses
to rot in the blearing sun.
Fast forward 150 years and what have we got; an incredible similarity
except that this time we must include all the mod cons of todays
world. Concentrating solely on the main theme, computers, large ones
have turned into smaller ones, then into personal desk versions; finally
ending up as portable laptops. Theyve all become smaller, smarter,
and cheaper but the most important point is that the whole lot has become
disposable. Every time Bill Gates sneezes he sends the garbage collectors
around the world with masses of dustbins to pick up the debris of useless
computers. Can we not compare this carnage of disposability
to that of the buffalos of the West?
Sure, everyone is now talking about recycling. One huge melting pot
is waiting around the corner for all iPods, Play Stations or Wi-Fis,
not to mention the trillions of invisible versions of mini-computers
in cars, washing machines, refrigerators or dentist drills, to mention
but a few. Big deal! HAL is telling us that it cannot be done, its
too late! Hes also advising us that the snowball is speeding down
the hill and cannot be stopped.
Hold on! Weve also got a world crisis going on. Will this have
an effect on computerisation? Hungry countries like Brazil, China and
India have recently joined the bandwagon of computer consumption and
thanks to their economic growth may well put a stop to this whole shambles
of an international financial disaster. It wont take long before
were back on track with more and more work for the computer dump
HAL; we give in. Tell us how to please you without upsetting the
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do!
© James G. Skinner. November, 2009.
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